Black women are not receiving the health care, or respect, that they deserve. Even as overall health care improves, Black women continue to benefit far less than any other racial or ethnic group. There’s still a lot of work to be done but first we need to understand how medicine is failing Black women if we’re going to improve anything.
Health professionals not only spend less time with their Black patients, they also tend to underestimate their pain, ignore their symptoms, or dismiss their complaints.
Chronic stress from exposure to racism and racial discrimination has been shown to cause negative health effects, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Maternal Mortality Rate
The pregnancy-related mortality rates for Black women are nearly 4 times that of non-Hispanic white women.
|Race/Ethnicity||deaths per 100,000 live births|
|Black non-Hispanic women||42.4|
|American Indian/Alaskan Native non-Hispanic women||30.4|
|Asian/Pacific Islander non-Hispanic women||14.1|
|white non-Hispanic women||13.0|
Doctors tend to ignore the concerns of their Black patients, which can lead to complications. One recent example is Serena Williams, who told her doctors that she was having trouble breathing and had a history of developing blood clots in her lungs. Her doctors ignored her but she was finally able to insist upon a CT scan that could provide her a diagnosis.
Luckily, Serena Williams was able to convince her health care providers to take her seriously and it saved her life. Many Black women are not that lucky. Even when compensating for socioeconomic status, Black women continue to have higher maternal mortality rates and they continue to rise.
Pregnant Black women have a higher risk of depressive symptoms due to racial discrimination and systemic oppression.
Infant Mortality Rate
In the United States, Black babies are dying at higher rates than non-Hispanic white babies. Black American infants have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate, are 3.8 times as likely to die from complications related to low birthweight, and are more than twice as likely to experience Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) as non-Hispanic white American infants.
Over 20% of Black women experience infertility, compared to the average 12% of women of childbearing age. Only 8% of infertile Black women seek fertility treatment compared to 15% of white women.
Living through Jim Crow laws have been linked to negative health impacts. Nancy Krieger‘s research has shown a heightened risk of estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer, which has worse survival rates than estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer) among Black women who were raised in Jim Crow states.
Although Black women have a slightly lower risk of developing breast cancer, they have a 50% higher risk of dying from breast cancer compared to white women. This is potentially due to breast cancer being more likely to be found at an earlier stage for white women than Black women. Black people have the highest death rate and lowest survival rate of any racial or ethnic group for most cancers.
The Affordable Care Act allowed many more Black women to have access to affordable, quality health care. Policies to repeal the ACA will significantly impact Black women, who will no longer have access to preventative service, treatment, and other essential health care.
Advocate for Black Women
As government and health care policies change, we need to make sure that we are advocating for everyone. Time and time again, white people are the standard when we discuss average health care and improvements. We need to be critical of advancements and whether they are accessible to all or only available to those already benefiting the most from the health care system.